The 30 mile section of the Long Trail from Middlebury Gap to Appalachian is one of the toughest parts of the Trail that I’ve hiked to date. It rained again, nearly continuously, for the last two days.
Day to Day Mileages looked like this:
Day 1: Middlebury Gap to Emily Proctor Shelter: 6.7 miles
Day 2: Emily Proctor Shelter to Battelle Shelter: 12.1 miles
Day 3: Battelle Shelter to Appalachian Gap: 10.5 miles
I normally drive up to Vermont the night before I do a section hike, but this time I drove up on the first day of my hike because I simply ran out of time the day before. I left the house at 6am and met my shuttle at the Appalachian Gap parking lot, which like most things on the Long Trail is poorly marked. It’s a pull off across from the microwave tower on Rt 17. No sign, but it’s perfectly legal.
I was met by Thomas from TheMadCab promptly at 10am and I was on the trail at Middlebury Gap by 10:45. This is a pretty late start by my standards, but I hadn’t had much sleep in the previous days, so I wanted to have an easy day one and get to a shelter far enough from the road where I could get a good night’s sleep. I had set my sights on the Emily Proctor shelter, which is located just below the summit of Bread Loaf Mt. (3,835 ft).
I hiked for about two hours, climbing Burnt Hill (3,080 ft.) and Kirby Peak (3,140 ft.) and took a break at Boyce Shelter, about 3 miles from the road. This is a pretty old beat up shelter, but it’s in a nice meadow. I had a snack and hiked another two miles to Skyline Lodge climbing Mt Boyce (3,323 ft) and Battell Mt. (3,482 ft). Skyline is a recently constructed shelter in top condition with a door, and screens and glass in the windows. This would be a perfect place to camp in the fall or winter. There is a fairly large pond below the shelter full of flowering lilly pads.
It was thundering up to the north so I sat on the shelter porch and had a snack hoping to kill some time and let the storm pass. On hindsight that was probably a bad decision.
I continued on and summited Bread Loaf Mountain (3,835 ft) and then started to descend the north face to the Emily Proctor Shelter 0.6 miles away. On the way down, I couldn’t help but think that I had made it through an entire day on the Long Trail with a dry pair of boot and dry socks!
I made it about half way to the shelter before it started to drizzle, so I picked up my pace. Then the woods around me got very dark even though it was just past 3 pm. Then the rain started coming down in a torrent, despite the fact that I had plenty of tree cover above me. The thunder got much closer and much louder and the trail immediately filled with water, soaking my boots and socks. Hiking downhill with the trail awash in water quickly became treacherous. At these higher elevations, the Long Trail is very rocky, with huge granite slabs that become extremely slick when they get wet. My pace slowed considerably.
I started to beat feet for the shelter, but there were suddenly a lot of lighting flashes all around me. I dropped to the ground and assumed the lightning position, squatting on a rock that was on a rock, out of the water that was cascading down the trail. I collapsed my hiking poles and scrunched down into a yoga child’s pose, huddling next to a dead tree and praying that the lightning would pass quickly, when it started to hail. Luckily the hail stones were only the size of peas.
About 15 minutes later, the storm blew past me and I hiked the remaining quarter mile to the shelter only to find that the inside was soaked from blowing rain. The Long Trail Guide notes that Emily Proctor is somewhat exposed to weather, so I rigged up my tarp to block any additional rain that might fall during the night. I tied the bottom end of the tarp to the outside floor beam and attached the top of the tarp to a cross beam about half way up the inside of the roof: basically a classic slant setup with the tarp sheltering the occupants inside the shelter.
I stripped off all of my wet clothes, changed into my sleeping set and had some dinner. A couple that had also been caught in the storm stopped by for a rest before heading south to Skylight Lodge. They were doing a Long Trail thru hike and had been out for 12 days. After they left, I set up the rest of my gear for the night, hung my bear bag and crashed by about 7pm. I had the shelter all to myself that night.
I woke up at 5:30am (hence my trail name Earlylite) and broke camp by 7am. My destination on day 2 was Battell Shelter about two-thirds of the way up Mt. Abraham (4,006 ft) from Lincoln Gap. Today’s hike would be a series of summits, one after another, all named after former presidents. The weather was hot and humid and it was still thundering out, so my strategy was to get past the exposed peaks as early in the day as possible before the sun had a chance to heat up the air. I was not looking forward to another encounter with lightning on a treeless summit.
The trail was very wet as I set out for the day and my socks and boots were quickly saturated. My first scheduled rest stop was Cooley Glen shelter about 5 miles north. On the way I climbed Mt. Wilson (3,745 ft), Mt. Roosevelt (3,528 ft), and Mt Cleveland (3,842 ft). Just after Roosevelt, there is a viewpoint called Killington View that looks south over the series of peaks that I had climbed since Killington Peak. I could only make out the silhouettes of a few of the sixteen mountains I had summited since then due to the heavy mist. This must be a glorious view on a clear day.
On the way to Cooley Glen shelter, I stopped off at the Cooley Glen spring to fill up my platy. The spring was very low but I managed to pump out 3 liters of water with my First Need. I hiked up to Cooley Glen, ate some lunch and set out for Lincoln Gap, just short of 5 miles north. Then it started to rain. I climbed Mt. Grant (3623 ft) and continued on to Sunset Ledge, a bald viewpoint about one mile south of Lincoln Gap.
The section of the Long Trail that I’d been hiking since Middlebury Gap is called the Bread Loaf Wilderness and there is a chronic lack of trail blazes in it that can become unnerving, particularly when its raining, you are tired and the day is waning. Somehow I managed to find my way through the maze of rock boulders and granite at Sunset Ledge and find the trail down to Lincoln Gap which was horribly steep, rocky and wet. In situations like this, I can’t stop thinking that the Long Trail trip is a test of my survival skills and not just a long distance hike.
When I emerged from the woods at Lincoln Gap, I was amazed to see about two dozen cars parked along side the road. It turns out that Mt Abraham, the next summit,is a popular weekend favorite with the locals, even when it is raining. I stopped in the parking lot, took off my boots and wrung out my socks before starting my next ascent up to Batell Shelter, 1.8 miles north. This was a very hard hike uphill at about 1,000 ft per mile: it was still raining and the rocky ascent was very slick.
When I finally made it to the shelter, I decided I had had enough for the day even though it was only 3:45 pm. I considered trying to make the next shelter, about 6.4 miles north, but it runs along exposed ridge and I was still concerned about lightning. I dried off, took care of my housekeeping, and fell asleep early again around 7pm. I was alone in a shelter for a second evening.
I woke up at 5:40 and broke camp an hour later. As I climbed Mt. Abraham, it started to drizzle making the ascent to the bald summit very slippery. I summited about 40 minutes later in a white out and couldn’t find where the Long Trail continued north from the summit. Typical. I eventually found an unmarked opening in the woods and decided to follow it. Eventually I saw a blaze and knew I was on the right path. I continued, past Little Abe (3,900 ft), Lincoln Peak (3,975 ft), Nancy Hanks Peak (3,812 ft.), and Cutts Peak, (4,022 ft.) to Mt Ellen (4,083 ft), the rain intensifying as I walked.
The section north of Mt Abraham to Mt Ellen is a nearly flat ridge walk that is exposed to the weather. The elevation dips between mountain peaks are only several hundred feet, making it easy to bag a lot of peaks in one day.
The trail on top of the ridge was very wet. We’re talking beyond mud here. I was constantly dodging huge puddles the size of motel swimming pools or hopping from rock to rock through them. I couldn’t help but think that the really big flatish rocks in the puddles looked like crocodile heads.
This section of the trail is also very narrow and chocked with young evergreen trees that are saturated with water. As you walk down the trail, you can barely see your feet as you swoosh between the trees that drench you with every step.
I made it to Mt Ellen by 10am and took a break to ring out my socks and change into my rain pants. The temperature was in the low 60’s on the ridge and I had been feeling a little cold the past hour since my pants were so wet. I ate a hot sausage and some bread to get my core temperature fired up and decided to hike out to Appalachian Gap without taking a break at the next shelter, Glen Ellen Lodge.
The 6 mile section from Mt Ellen to Appalachian Gap has to be the hardest hiking I’ve done on the Long Trail so far. It has some very steep descents, including ladders, that would be difficult if it wasn’t also pouring rain. There were numerous instances where getting down a high consequence rock slab required creative footwork, root hand holds, and the occasional butt sliding.
In addition, I had to cross through two more ski areas. I really dread these sections of trail because they are often very poorly blazed. You come out of the forest into a field of weeds and the trail disappears. From there you need to guess whether to walk across the slope, up hill, or downhill, to find where the trail starts up again. It’s never obvious and the Long Trail Map never helps.
Let me give you an example. One of the ski areas I had to cross was Sugarbush North. I came out of the woods and saw two monstrous chair lifts but no sign of a path or rock cairns left by other hikers. I knew this was going to take a while because there were many ski runs going down the mountain. Based on my map, I knew I was looking for a summit called Stark’s Nest (3,644) which is the highest point in the area, so I started walking uphill, past the chair lifts. As luck would have it, I found some white blazes painted on some rocks about 200 yards from where I had emerged from the woods to the south, next to one of the ski resort’s summit warming huts. This hut had a porch and I decided to ring our my socks again. I sat down and saw a sign over the hut which read “Starks Nest.” I’m not going to start a Long Trail Map rant here, but I was not amused to find out that a man made building was labeled as a natural feature, a peak no less, on my map.
This same scenario was repeated a bit further on when I had to cross the Mad River Ski area. No sign of a trail again except for a snow shoe trail descending from the summit. I decided to follow it down a ways and came across a white blaze about 200 yards down the trail. I must be lucky.
Once past the ski slopes, the final 1.8 miles of this section continued to be tough and for much of its length I was walking down a stream where the trail was. This eventually flattened out and I now found myself ascending again up to the level of the Appalachian Gap. Astonishingly, I saw no one on this entire 10 mile section until I was within 100 yards of the road, when I came across 4 hikers out in ponchos and tennis shoes. I finally emerged onto Rt 17 at about 1:30pm, directly across the road from my car, covering this 10 mile stretch in about 7 hours.
I’m already planning my next section which will probably be a southbound from Smuggler’s Notch to Appalachian Gap and will include summits of Mt Mansfield (4,393 ft) and Camel’s Hump (4,083 ft), the two highest peaks on the Long Trail. I hope it doesn’t rain.